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The New Cocaine: System Of A Down And The Dangers Of Irony

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  • The New Cocaine: System Of A Down And The Dangers Of Irony

    By Zac Pennington

    The Portland Mercury, OR
    Oct 6 2005

    System of a Down
    Rose Garden
    1 Center Court

    If you keep your tongue firmly lodged in cheek most of the time,
    you're eventually going to slip up and bite it. That's one of the
    primary dangers in this seemingly eternal age of irony: phrases, music,
    clothing, and other affects adopted in fits of ironic appreciation
    have the damnedest way of creeping out of their holes and into your
    subconscious-and soon enough that joke you made a few years ago about
    having an ironic coke party turns into 15-minute bathroom queues at
    every bar in the city for the next five years.

    It's a slippery slope-in spite of all the defenses that we so carefully
    compound around our lives, the viral strain of ironic appreciation
    seems to have an uncanny capacity to work its way through our otherwise
    closed doors of perception. And that's the only viable explanation
    for just how it came to be that a major-label metal band immerged from
    the darkest corners of late-'90s radio rock to become every indierock
    fan's favorite guilty pleasure: System of a Down are the new cocaine.

    For most of us, a tentative relationship with System of a Down began
    with the 1998 release of their self-titled debut-a record comfortably
    marketed alongside the era's reprehensible rap-rock phenomenon.

    Despite a campaign aggressively marketing the LA band's Armenian
    descent, most reasonable people saw little to distinguish System from
    the hordes of goateed douchebags ruling the airwaves at the time.

    >>From the very beginning, however, there was the faint call from
    otherwise rational folks (and a few heshers) instantly able to
    separate System from the radio rock's most dreadful scourge in recent
    memory-an assemblage of System apologists who's fruitless refrain was
    echoed time and time again: "Dude, I know that Nu-metal is totally
    unforgivable-but System seems pretty cool to me. I mean they're
    Armenian, for godssake!" Needless to say, it fell largely on deaf ears.

    And then something very funny (and I do mean funny) happened: In
    2001, System of a Down released a record called Toxicity. Toxicity's
    near-universal commercial embrace led to a great deal of forced
    exposure inflicted upon a lot of previously deaf ears. With the help
    of mega-singles (by metal standards, at least) like "Chop Suey!,"
    "Toxicity," and "Aerials," it was difficult to avoid vocalist Serj
    Tankian's incredibly ridiculous, politically tongue-twisted, angry
    leprechaun rants for the better part of two years. And you know what?

    Shit was kind of awesome-you know, in a gut-busting, hyper-dramatic,
    semi-retarded kind of way-enough to make you want to stop when it
    popped up on the airwaves. Every single time.

    It must have been about a year ago when I read somewhere that
    System's double album-in-progress (later split into current mega-album
    Mesmerize and soon-to-be-released Hypnotize) had primary influences
    of indie-friendly touchstones like Kraftwerk, the Zombies, and
    the Beach Boys. At the time, it sounded like just another piece of
    amusing mythology to tag onto my favorite band to get all post-modern
    about. And then, like everybody else, I actually heard Mesmerize-an
    incredibly ridiculous, politically tongue-twisted, gut-busting,
    hyper-dramatic, semi-retarded, and legitimately brilliant record of
    Zappa (or maybe Patton) level sonic complexity.

    At first I tried to laugh it off-I mean, it is kind of funny-but
    before long I had to face the fact that I sincerely (and still somewhat
    inexplicably) love System of a Down. And I know I'm not alone.